Last weekend I had the privilege of watching my nephew and godchild, Christian Ragnacci, score the first goal for the Abington Heights varsity soccer team in the Senior Day game against Honesdale High School.
Moments before the game, I teared up as Christian received recognition with his senior teammates and presented flowers to his mother, Lisa, my sister.
Wasn’t it yesterday that he was four years old, playing in his first soccer game in the Abington Youth Soccer League?
Sports have always been an important part of Christian’s world. In addition to soccer, he has grown up playing tee-ball, baseball, basketball and track and field.
My daughters, Jessica and Stephanie, played basketball in middle school. My daughter, Carolyn, cheered for the Abington Heights Junior Comets in middle school and Stephanie cheered in middle school and throughout high school at Abington Heights for football, soccer and basketball.
I can’t say enough about the benefits that participating in school or community athletics bring to our children. Not only does it keep their bodies fit, but it sharpens their minds. It teaches them discipline and how to be part of a team.
And it’s just fun.
The fun isn’t only for the kids but for the families as a reward for going to every game – sometimes in rainy or very cold weather – for buying and washing uniforms and shoes, treating bruises and giving pep talks. As a mom, I don’t remember the score of every game through the years, but I remember how they brought our immediate and extended family together for a little while in the course of our busy week. We and the other families with us in the bleachers were our kids’ biggest cheerleaders. I remember at Junior Comets games, in particular, several families who would sit there all day because they had children on A, B and C teams, which were grouped according to age.
My Stephanie said cheerleading was the best part of her senior year.
“It gave me purpose and confidence,” she said. “It’s fun to put yourself out there.”
As a teacher in adult life, Stephanie said she appreciates the many positives for young athletes.
“It doesn’t just make them good at their sport, it teaches good life skills,” she said. “It teaches them confidence and self-discipline, how to stay focused on your goals if you want to succeed.”
Stephanie added, “And it keeps kids on track while they’re playing, so they don’t get into trouble.”
Christian said he loves playing soccer.
“It’s really cool. There is a little touch of motivation, passion and excitement,” Christian said. “Forgive the pun, but it helps you make goals. It teaches you to strive and work hard.”
One of Christian’s favorite things about being in sports has been the close friendships he’s made along the way.
“It’s nice to be part of a team with my friends. We have a good time together, we represent our school. It’s great,” he said.
Of course, seeing (and hearing) family out in the bleachers is a major motivator for Christian when he’s in a game.
He said, “It makes me ecstatic that my favorite peeps can be there and support me for something I put a lot of time and effort into.”
His mom, who was a high school cheerleader, said she has never cheered louder than for her son.
“I watch Christian as a senior and I remember him playing as a little boy. When they’re so small, you think, ‘This is where it begins.’ Now I can’t believe we are here, in senior year. And he made a goal.”
Lisa added, “He’s my world. When I’m sitting in the bleachers I am bursting with pride. My happiness is watching him work so hard because he is doing what he loves.
“I just think he’s outstanding.”
Teri Lyon is a mom, grandmom and freelance writer who lives in Glenburn Township with her cat.